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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: DCS report shows state’s child abuse deaths still high

In August, News-Sentinel.com wrote that the Indiana Department of Child Services had just published a report showing deaths from child neglect and abuse increased to 65 during fiscal year 2017, which ended on June 30, 2017.

Now a new state DCS report has been released showing 65 Indiana children died from abuse or neglect during 2018. The report released Dec. 31 includes 26 abuse or neglect deaths that occurred during the last six months of 2017. 2019 marked the first year the revised Indiana law has required the agency to study child fatalities based on a calendar year rather than a state fiscal year.

Of the total fatalities covered by the new report, 43 were due to neglect and 22 were due to abuse. In 52 of the 65 fatalities the victim was 3 years old or younger. This finding demonstrates a consistent trend both nationally and in Indiana, says the DCS, that young children are at the highest risk of abuse or neglect.

Biological parents were deemed responsible most often for the child fatalities detailed in the report.

The Indiana DCS explains that the release of data surrounding these incidents “helps to shine a light on the needs of our communities. How might a first-time parent have reacted in a stressful situation had that parent received better education about early childhood needs? If a caregiver struggling to cope with the challenges of child-rearing had better access to mental health treatment, might a loss of life have been prevented? This report seeks to start those conversations.”

Lake County in Northwest Indiana had the most deaths during 2018 with eight (two abuse and six neglect), while central Indiana’s Madison County was next with five (three abuse and two neglect).

Allen County had four fatalities, three abuse and one neglect. Whitley County had one abuse fatality and Noble County had two fatalities, one abuse and one neglect, the only other Northeast Indiana counties on the list.

Marion and Porter counties matched Allen with four fatalities.

The most common causes of death (a majority – 44 – occurring in their own homes) were abusive head trauma (16), drowning (8) and poisoning or acute intoxication (8). Ten of the 65 child victims had previous substantiated history of neglect or abuse with DCS.

An Associated Press story pointed out the deaths in the 2018 report occurred while the child services agency experienced a high turnover of caseworkers and an increase in the number of cases of abused or neglected children state officials have blamed on more drug-addicted parents.

Gov. Eric Holcomb last year requested an addition of $572 million in the state budget over two years to help the agency keep hundreds of new caseworkers. But legislators trimmed $70 million from that request, saying less funding was possible because of an improving level of caseloads.

As we pointed out in August, the most recent Centers for Disease Control statistics show an estimated one in four children in America experience maltreatment at some point in their lives. And a report from the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said child abuse rates in Indiana more than double the national average.

The fact is, dozens of Hoosier children die at the hands of their caregivers every year, whether by neglect or physical abuse. Deaths like these are preventable through increased community awareness and education. And we must not fail to do our part in helping protect our children.

To report abuse or neglect, call the Child Protective Services hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-800-5556.